Given that the second round of Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 finishes today, it might have made sense to write about it sooner. But it’s been a funny – and busy – few weeks round our way, and I’ve just not quite found the time to do so. What you gonna do?
For the uninitiated, the GBBH is a national competition, organised by Sainsbury’s, to find the best new beers the country has to offer. Starting with regional heats, now fewer than 156 beers are whittled down to just two – a winner and runner-up – whose prize is to go on sale for a minimum period in Sainsbury’s stores across the country. Now in its third year, the competition has unearthed a few gems such as Caesar Augustus by Williams Bros. and last year’s winner, Bateman’s Mocha (although the last couple of bottles I’ve had of that have been oddly diaappointing).
Each year that the competition has been running, my brother-in-law and I have joined in at the second stage of the competition, where the shortlisted beers go on sale for a limited period, and the best-sellers make it through to the final, by buying and sampling at least one bottle of each beer. This year, we were joined by our friend Andrew, who happened to be visiting for the weekend, meaning that we were able to sample all 20 beers in a single evening, rather than 2 or 3 as in years past.
If you happened to be reading my twitter stream last Saturday night, you’ll already know how we got on. If not, well I’m not going to repeat the beer-by-beer account here, but it’s out there if you really want it. Instead I’m going to summarise my thoughts on this year’s selection, which, unfortunately, I found a bit disappointing.
Don’t get me wrong, for the most part the beers on offer were tasty enough, and with a couple of exceptions (Barney’s Brew by Hilden and Serendipity by Bird’s Brewery) I’d happily drink any of them again. My problem, though, was that they were all too similar. In previous years there have been a wide range of beer styles on offer, but this year seemed to be mostly golden ale after golden ale after golden ale, and it all got a bit monotonous very quickly.
No surprise then, that my top 3 were ones that broke the mould. Williams Bros‘ Gonny No Brew That was the tastiest of the golden ales, and definitely the pick of the Scottish beers. My other top beers were both from Harbour Brewing Co., a relatively new brewery in Cornwall, but one I’ll be keeping an eye on. Porter No.6 was sweet with a lot of coffee and dark chocolate flavour to it, while I found their IPA to well balanced and definitely more flavoursome than most of the beers on offer.
I’m not sure I could pick a winner out of those three – that’s for the judges to decide on Friday, assuming they all make the final in London – but any one of them would be a worthy winner.
Sainsbury’s seem to tweak the format of the competition each year, and while I doubt there’s much they can do to increase the variety of styles (the beers making it to the second round are selected by the public at a series of tastings) one thing I would like to see them do is limit the number of entries each brewery can have. This year, 5 breweries were responsible for 11 of the 20 beers on offer, which doesn’t exactly promote diversity.
But other than a few minor quibbles, I think Sainsbury’s are once again to be applauded for this annual celebration of Great British Beer. I look forward to hearing who the overall winners are in Friday’s final. And who knows, maybe next year I’ll make it to the regional heats and be able to shape what makes it through to the second round. Of course, despite my earlier moans, I reserve the right to vote for golden ales.
I’ve written before about how much we love Gro-clocks. Megan’s hasn’t been quite the raging success that Heather’s was, but to be fair to her she’s only now reaching the age Heather was when we got hers, and I think she’s just about there. She definitely understands the concept of staying in bed until the sun comes up, she’s just not very good at executing it. But she’s getting better, and that’s all we can hope for at this stage.
Now, since I started cycling to work, I’ve developed a very fixed morning routine. It’s become a well-oiled machine, just like my bike itself: out of bed, pull on my clothes, visit the bathroom, put lunch in my bag, eat breakfast, and go. No room for dawdling, something which can sometimes be difficult with small people around.
This morning I was in the bathroom, doing… well, what one does in the bathroom… when I heard the pitter patter of toddler feet. Toddlers aren’t renowned for respecting privacy, so I wasn’t surprised when Megan appeared to tell me cheerfully that the sun was up. I asked her if it really was (knowing that it would be) and she said she’d go and check. What I wasn’t expecting was the next bit:
“Close your eyes… and no peeking!”
Now, when a 2 year old tells you to close your eyes and not to peek, what can you do but comply? So I’m not really sure what the banging, huffing, puffing and muttering that followed was all about. I think she had knocked her Gro-clock over in trying to turn it round, but I guess we’ll never know. Eventually, though, I was told I could open my eyes, and there was Megan, standing proudly beside her Gro-clock where the sun was, indeed, up. “See? Sun’s up” she said. And it was!
And then, just to add to the feeling of “aren’t kids great?”, Heather appears from her room to tell us we were being too noisy! 4 going on 14, that one.
Of course, all these goings on somewhat derailed my smooth machine-like morning routine. But in this instance I’m not fussed. I don’t get to spend much time with the girls during the week, so moments like this are absolutely priceless.
I just had to pedal a little faster to make up the lost time.
On Tuesday we ended a strange week – a strange few weeks actually, months even – by saying goodbye to my Grandma, who died the previous week. An ever present in my life, she had reached the ripe old age of 95, and although her body had slowly been failing her for a while, especially her eyes, it was only in the last few weeks that her mind had followed suit. When she departed us last Thursday, a week ago today, I actually commented to one of my cousins that the woman I’d visited in the hospital the previous evening, for the last time as it would turn out, wasn’t really my Grandma, because she’d really died a few weeks before.
Born in the final months of the First World War, married in the midst of the Second, and widowed just as the Sixties were beginning to swing, life wasn’t always easy for Grandma, but she was never one to give up and always managed to carry on past whatever life had to throw at her. Indeed, in her last few days, lying in hospital, all of us who saw her were amazed at how her body seemingly refused to give in. I’d love to think I’ve inherited that fighting spirit, but I’m really not sure that I have. Even a pinch would be good though.
I think my earliest memory of Grandma is queuing up outside the (now demolished) Odeon Cinema in Union St in Glasgow, which I discovered years later is only a block or two from where she got married all those years before. We were going to see Sleeping Beauty, and I reckon I must only have been about 4 at the time (Wikipedia tells me that Sleeping Beauty was re-released in 1979, so that fits). I know it wasn’t my first trip to the cinema, that was to see Pinocchio with my Dad, and I slept through most of it – these days that’s his trick The final battle between the Prince and the wicked Queen, where she turns herself into a dragon, is what I remember, and when I saw the film years later I was transported back to my childhood. Back to roughly about the age Heather is now in fact, an age where I had no real concept of death.
And, of course, neither does she, which made telling her about her Great Grandma one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Unsure how she’d react, and in the middle of her first week of full school days, we waited until the weekend to tell her and Megan the news. Megan unsurprisingly barely registered that we’d even spoken, but Heather cuddled into Gem, looking like she was on the verge of tears, then after a couple of minutes went off to play with Megan like nothing had happened.
She’s obviously been thinking things over though, because in the days since there have been all sorts of questions, like “where is Heaven?” and “what age was Great Grandma?”. Part of me would love to know what’s going on in her little head, how she’s dealing with it, but I think it’s for the best that we let it go. If she comes to me or Gem and starts asking questions, then of course we’ll talk to her about it, but she’s got enough on her plate right now without us bringing it up.
So now, all that’s left are the practical matters – sorting out her estate, clearing and selling the house she lived in for over 50 years. That’s mostly being looked after by my Dad and his sister, but I’m more than happy to help wherever needed. I’ve already volunteered my services to scan all the old family photographs, so that everyone can enjoy those memories.
Rest in peace Grandma, gone but never to be forgotten xxx